Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Remembering Mom

A year ago this coming Thursday, I got on a plane to fly to Cincinnati to see my mom before she died.  But she had other plans, and as I waited for my ride to the airport, I got a text from my sister that she was gone.  I went anyway and met up with my sister and brothers in Mom’s room at the residence where she’d spent her last two years after Dad died.  We shared memories, told jokes, and did what was necessary to make sure that her room was cleared out and arrangements were made.

Back in July we interred her ashes on the garden wall of the little chapel in northern Michigan next to Dad.  I included the October 26, 2022 edition of the New York Times that was waiting for her that morning, and a copy of the local paper with her obituary.  I brought home a small sample of her ashes to place next to those I have from Dad, and they’re together there and with me.

It’s been a year now, and as I’ve gone through it, I know that grief is a glacial process.  There are moments when I miss her dearly and inconsolable that I won’t hear her voice or read her comments here, where she was “Faithful Correspondent.”  And then there are moments of fond remembrance as I look around the house and see her traces: books, the well-placed pieces of art that only she knew exactly where to put them, and life habits like making my bed every day and how to make coffee.  And I have the genetic proof as well: the semi-curly hair, the knock-knees, and the strabismus in my right eye that I shared with Mom’s younger brother and his eldest daughter.

Mom shows up in my plays in one way or another.  It’s the way I deal with loss, the same way I did with Dad and with Allen.  As I note in the play “Good Grief,” grief is my new boyfriend.  So, she’s here with me, reminding me to write thank-you notes, make my bed, and get a Kleenex when I sniff.

Thanks, Mom.

Nancy Levis Williams 1929-2022

Monday, July 24, 2023

Monday, June 12, 2023

Sunday, April 9, 2023

Sunday Reading

That Little Jagged Pill That May Cause a Constitutional Crisis — Mark Joseph Stern in Slate on the gob-smacking ruling about mifepristone.

On Friday evening, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk of Texas issued an unprecedented decision withdrawing the FDA’s approval of mifepristone, the first drug used in medication abortion, 23 years after it was first approved. His order, which applies nationwide, marks the first time in history that a court has claimed the authority to single-handedly pull a drug from the market, a power that courts do not, in fact, have. Kacsmaryk’s ruling is indefensible from top to bottom and will go down in history as one of the judiciary’s most shocking and lawless moments. It goes even further than expected, raising the possibility that he will impose “fetal personhood,” which holds that every state must ban abortion because it murders a human. Within an hour of its release, the decision also spurred the start of a constitutional crisis: A federal judge in Washington swiftly issued a dueling injunction compelling the FDA to continue allowing mifepristone in 17 states and District of Columbia, which brought a separate suit in Washington.

Kacsmaryk stayed his decision for one week to let the Biden administration appeal, but his ruling stands a good chance of being upheld at the radically conservative 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. If his order takes effect, the FDA will be faced with competing, mutually exclusive court orders requiring the agency to simultaneously suspend mifepristone nationwide and preserve access to the drug in 18 blue jurisdictions. The agency cannot comply with both orders at once. And because Kacsmaryk’s is broader, covering all 50 states, it guarantees that mifepristone will be suspended in much of the country. Only the Supreme Court can resolve this looming crisis, and it has a very limited window of time in which to do so. It has been less than a year since the court claimed to rid itself of the abortion issue. Now it must decide whether American patients will lose access to an abortion drug that has been on the market for 23 years and proven safer than Tylenol—on the order of a single, rogue judge.

It is probably impossible to count how many errors, exaggerations, and lies Kacsmaryk, a Donald Trump appointee, put in his decision. The judge appears to have largely copied and pasted the briefs filed by the anti-abortion group that filed the suit, the Alliance Defending Freedom, rephrasing their arguments as his own analysis. (This was predictable—Kacsmaryk himself is a staunch anti-abortion activist—and might be why ADF handpicked him specifically to hear the case for them.) His decision repeats the ridiculous and objectively false conspiracy theory about mifepristone—that the FDA illegally rushed its approval in 2000 at the behest of former President Bill Clinton, the pharmaceutical industry, and population control advocates. Kacsmaryk flyspecked the FDA’s assessment of the drug, concluding that its studies were insufficient and that the agency “acquiesced to the pressure to increase access to chemical abortion at the expense of women’s safety.” And he claimed that he had authority to revisit an FDA approval that occurred 23 years ago because the agency happens to have changed rules around the dispensation of the drug several times since.

This is all completely absurd, an outrageous abuse of power that no judge has ever even attempted before. Challenges to agency actions have a six-year statute of limitations. That means plaintiffs get a full six years to file a lawsuit, after which point they’ve waited too long. It has, just to reiterate, been more than two decades since the FDA approved mifepristone. Kascmaryk ignored that limitation in his quest to block the drug because, he insisted, the agency hadn’t responded quickly enough to citizen petitions opposing the drug. That is not the law.

His entire theory of standing is also offensively nonsensical. Kascmaryk said physicians who may treat patients who have side effects from medical abortions prescribed by someone else are sufficiently injured by mifepristone to sue. But time and again, the Supreme Court has said that a plaintiff must have a particularized and concrete injury to obtain standing. A doctor can’t sue the government for approving a drug that they claim harms somebody else; otherwise, every doctor could file an endless stream of lawsuits against every drug approval of all time. Kacsmaryk’s logic would essentially abolish the standing requirement for lawsuits against drug approvals by creating a special exception out of thin air. That is not the law.

If anyone could sue here, it would be women who took mifepristone—but they are absent. Why? Kacsmaryk speculated: “Women who have aborted a child—especially through chemical abortion drugs that necessitate the woman seeing her aborted child once it passes — often experience shame, regret, anxiety, depression, drug abuse, and suicidal thoughts because of the abortion.” These women’s abortion were so “deeply traumatizing” that they simply couldn’t file a suit, forcing doctors to, instead. No party put forward any evidence of this claim; Kacsmaryk just drew it from a handful of anti-abortion propaganda tracts. That is not the law.

From start to finish, Kacsmaryk’s opinion reads like a screed penned by an anti-abortion activists—because it largely is. At one point, he deemed fetuses to “arguably” be “people” who are killed by mifepristone, seeking to establish the “fetal personhood” that has always been the end goal of the movement. For support, he cited a brief by anti-abortion advocate Robert P. George asserting that the Constitution compels every state to outlaw abortion. Kacsmaryk also repeatedly drew from notoriously untrustworthy anti-abortion activists’ work to support major premises of his opinion. For instance, Kacsmaryk wrote that many women are uninformed that they may face torturous side effects before and after “expelling the aborted human.”

These assertions—the likelihood of awful side effects and the lack of information about them—are just untrue; medication abortion is extraordinarily safe, and patients cannot access it without onerous restrictions that include major warnings about (rare) side effects. So where did Kacsmaryk get this idea from? Tessa Longbons, a research assistant at the Charlotte Lozier Institute, a pro-life advocacy group that tries to build up scientific scaffolding under anti-abortion lies. To give one example: The Lozier Institute rejects the fact that some fetuses are, tragically, “incompatible with life” and will not survive beyond birth, if they even get that far. It argues that women should be forced to carry a fetus to term even if has a lethal condition that will ensure its own demise and potentially endanger the mother. This is one of Kacsmaryk’s leading authorities. (No surprise there: In footnote one, he declares he’ll use the phrase “unborn human” instead of fetus, claiming the later term is “unscientific.”)

There’s more: Kacsmaryk didn’t just revoke the 2000 approval, he overturned multiple changes to mifepristone access since, including those that reduced barriers to the drug and one that allowed it to be prescribed through the mail. The judge declared that mailing any abortion drug is a federal crime under the Comstock Act, not only prohibiting mail-order mifepristone but raising the possibility that any provider who mails mifepristone—or misoprostol, which is used with mifepristone but can work on its own—could be prosecuted and incarcerated. The Comstock Act is an unenforced 19th century law designed to censor the U.S. mail that bans, as Kacsmaryk cited approvingly, the mailing of “[e]very obscene, lewd, lascivious, indecent, filthy or vile article, matter, thing, device, or substance.” It has long been read to allow actual, legal medication to be mailed even if it terminates a pregnancy. Kacsmaryk’s new interpretation would threaten the nationwide transport of mifepristone even if a higher court overturns his suspension of the 2000 approval.

In truth, the reasoning goes beyond that. Through the combination of Comstock Act enforcement and fetal personhood, Kacsmaryk is laying the groundwork for a federal ban on abortion imposed through the courts. He knows such a ban could never be enacted through the democratic process. So he is apparently intent on delivering it through the judiciary, instead.

Just after Kacsmaryk dropped this bomb, Judge Thomas O. Rice, a Barack Obama appointee in Washington State, issued a clashing decision ordering the FDA to continue providing mifepristone in the 18 jurisdictions that brought the lawsuit. Rice concluded that the FDA’s current restrictions on accessibility of the drug go too far, which, from a scientific standpoint, is obviously correct: The remaining obstacles, mainly complex certification requirements for pharmacies, serve zero medical benefit to doctors or patients. The Biden administration will probably appeal both orders, but on different timelines: Kacsmaryk’s decision would radically alter the status quo while Rice’s would maintain it. So while the administration must appeal it to the 5th Circuit, it can also leapfrog over the extremely conservative court and ask SCOTUS for an immediate emergency stay to resolve the conflict between the Washington ruling and the Texas one while awaiting a 5th Circuit decision. That is obviously the correct course of action here, because the 5th Circuit will almost certainly drag this out and ultimately side with Kacsmaryk.

What will the Supreme Court do? Most obviously, it has to act quickly. There are two imminent crises afoot: First, Sen. Ron Wyden has already urged the FDA to ignore the decision, and more Democrats will soon join him. Wyden is right: Kacsmaryk does not have the power to force the FDA to “stay” mifepristone or remove it from the market in any other way. That would be quite literally against the law. But a department of the executive branch ignoring a court order would be a very dramatic escalation between two branches of government that SCOTUS will want to avoid. Second, the threat of competing and contradictory court orders should spur the justices to act quickly so the executive branch need not be forced into a situation where it is breaking the law.

The case is a test of the Supreme Court’s promise, when overturning Roe v. Wade, to treat abortion like any other subject and leave the issue to “the people and their representatives” rather than unelected judges. Justice Brett Kavanaugh, in particular, swore he would chart a sensible course forward, refusing to let either side of the abortion debate manipulate the courts to achieve their agenda. But that’s exactly what ADF and Kacsmaryk are doing here, and anyone who is not profoundly biased against reproductive rights can see it plain and simple. Chief Justice John Roberts will likely not buy what Kacsmaryk is selling, and even Justice Amy Coney Barrett may realize how dangerous, lawless, and unprecedented this decision is.

Doonesbury — The difference between “can” and “must.”

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Sunday Reading

Mark My Words — Florence Hazrat comes to the defense of the oft-overused exclamation point!

Open your text messages. Scroll through a couple of threads with your close friends. Chances are you will find plenty of ! or !!! — to express anger or enthusiasm or sometimes just to lighten the mood. But in some contexts — in a note, say, to your boss or your mother-in-law — an ! might come off as too forceful or pushy or naively joyful. The Chicago Manual of Style says the punctuation should be used “sparingly to be effective.” But what does “sparingly” mean in our emphatic times? If you’re confused, you’re not alone; the exclamation point (or mark) has long been a source of confusion and contention. Naturally!

For the last three years, I have been studying the history of the exclamation point — and over the course of my research (which began with a study of parentheses) time and again I have come across flak against !. I began to wonder whether the exclamation point was really as “breathless, almost childish” as the “Penguin Guide to Punctuation” says it is. I read on, hoping someone would publish a manifesto in defense of the poor abused mark, but couldn’t find anything. So that someone turned out to be me.

What I love about ! is precisely the unabashed emotion that makes sober style guides uncomfortable. The exclamation point encodes feelings — and it doesn’t apologize for doing so. In fact, since its first known appearance, in the 1340s, ! has been praised for capturing the emotion of the author and encouraging emotions in the reader.

The ! was a bit of a late bloomer — sprouting up from the period, which along with the comma, colon and question mark had been around for hundreds of years. The Italian scholar Alpoleio da Urbisaglia, however, noticed with dismay that people would read what he called “admirative sentences” as statements or questions, which undermined both the meaning and the effect. In his Latin treatise “The Art of Punctuating,” Alpoleio suggested a new mark, one that would signal “admiration and wonder” through a period at the bottom of the line and an apostrophe dangling from the top of the line. ! was born, addressing an express need for emotion in text.

Renaissance writers put a premium on persuasion, gladly using any means at their disposal to make their readers feel, so the exclamation point quickly spread across Europe from manuscript to manuscript and enlarged its sphere of influence to indicate not only admiration and wonder but any strong emotion.

! was happily coasting along in the service of effective rhetoric until a shift occurred at the end of the 19th century. Its repercussions still determine our current critical attitudes: We started to become suspicious of emotion in any form in public or private life, preferring the clean straight lines of a Bauhaus building to the mischievous curlicues of a Renaissance palace. During the Victorian age, language was forced into a straitjacket of right or wrong on both sides of the Atlantic. Along with the zeitgeist of quantification, linguistics invented itself as an exact science that left little space for ambiguity, experimentation, excess and the conscious deviations that are the hallmark of a language that’s alive and breathing.

Influential household writing guides like “The King’s English” (1906) by the Fowler brothers, sternly admonishing that too many !!! “betray the uneducated,” contributed to banishing exclamation points into two realms where convincing through emotion was of the utmost importance: wartime propaganda and advertising. Private exclaiming was discouraged; there wasn’t even a dedicated ! key on the typewriter until the 1980s — before that, you had to return to the exclamation point’s olden days, performing a complicated period-backspace-apostrophe dance. Only those truly committed to shouting would go to such lengths.

But ! was merely in hiding, planning its comeback. And come back it did … with a vengeance: Smartphone technology enables us to simply leave our thumbbbbbbb on any of the hundreds of available keys and produce rows of characters with no added effort. Social media’s declared goal is informal, near-instant human communication. Put differently, it’s all about emotion.

It seems almost obvious now that the exclamation point would rise again when smartphones and the web emerged and pooled forces. But there’s more to our increased !!!!!!!! than just that: The internet is a supremely disembodied space. All writing is disembodied, but with the rise of digital communication, we don’t have reminders of the writer’s actual presence anymore; we don’t have paper to feel, folds and crumples to see, or individual letter forms to scrutinize, underlinings, scratchings-out, a stamp that’s been licked. Both writer and reader are reduced to electronic impulses, as if they never existed as flesh and blood. Precisely because the exclamation point is so EMOTIONAL, it’s able to bridge that gap of presence. On the web, people using ! seem friendlier than people who don’t.

In their 2007 book “Send: Why People Email So Badly and How to Do It Better,” David Shipley (now the editorial page editor at The Washington Post) and Will Schwalbe suggest that exclamation points can give welcome texture to the otherwise flat tone of emails, recuperating them from the bottom of the punctuation pecking order. Why not spice up your emailing game with a few strategically placed exclamation points here and there? And don’t forget to include at least one in the first message to the person you swiped on: Your chances of getting a date could increase by 10 percent, according to one study!

The exclamation point did go through a rough patch before and during the Trump presidency: In 12 years on the little-blue-bird platform, Donald Trump reportedly produced 56,000 tweets, containing 33,000 !s. That’s a lot of exclaiming. It added to the screechy tone and political division perceived in the United States and abroad during those years. While the association with the ex-president remains strong, users have attempted to reclaim ! as a sign of spontaneous enthusiasm and authenticity.

But another threat is lurking around the corner: emoji. The little pictures have been hijacking some of the !’s traditional territory, appending expressions of feeling in text messages. In recent years, the number of emoji has exploded, growing every year. As texters, we need to scroll through long lists of similar-looking pictures to find the exact one that suits our need. Then as readers, we have to spend time and attention on recognizing which emoji we are facing and interpreting what it means in relation to the words surrounding it. The exclamation point, in contrast, is much more economical and effective, well suited to the swift back and forth of texting. Its shape is unmistakable, its message clear: Here are feelings! Pay attention!

Emoji may naturally disappear in a few years, replaced by new technologies, but the 700-year-old exclamation point isn’t going anywhere. And thank goodness! We need to keep using it — and should be free to do so, to point out wonder, express admiration. And joy! But beware: Boomers are allergic to exclamation points. So, if you want to keep the peace at the next family gathering with your parents-in-law, better go for the boring period!

Florence Hazrat is the author ofAn Admirable Point: A Brief History of the Exclamation Mark!” She is a writer and researcher from Berlin who loves all things punctuation and Shakespeare.

As a blogger and a playwright, I rarely use the exclamation point.  It’s not that I’m a snob about it, but as the author points out, it can be overused to the degree that it becomes meaningless, not unlike how a certain vulgar word has been used to the point that it has lost all its impact.  The only times exclamation points appear in this blog is when I’m quoting someone who used it in their piece.  Other than that, I let the writing carry the necessary emphasis.  In my plays, I hardly ever use it because I leave it up to the actors and the director to discern that it should be implied and the dialogue punched up without a punctuation mark.

Doonesbury — Look what I found.

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

It Was A Nice Idea While It Lasted

Charles P. Pierce.

It was this weekend that I finally gave up. I have watched the steady descent of American conservatism—and its primary public vehicle, the Republican Party—into the terminal depths of the prion disease it acquired when Ronald Reagan and Richard Viguerie and Jerry Falwell first fed it the monkey-brains back in the late 1970s when I was just starting out in this racket.

I mocked it and inveighed against it. Better people than I—Dave Neiwert, Chip Berlet, the SPLC—went out in the field, took good notes, and have spent four decades warning us what was coming unless the prion disease was kept in check. Too many people in a position to do so bailed on the task: the Republicans, because the prion disease was flourishing on the radio and winning them elections; and the Democrats, because they were too polite, or too naive, or too…something to care. (Some Democrats, worse ones, even tried to break off some of the people in whom the prion disease was raging.)

The public episodes are now too numerous to mention; violence—as any number of women’s health advocates will tell you—always has been marbled through it. Now, though, the violence is general and increasingly detached from reality. Over the weekend, watching the reaction to the assault on Paul Pelosi, which also was an attempt on the life of the person who is second in line to the presidency of the United States, I just gave up.

They are beyond anyone’s reach. They are beyond logic and reason. They left democratic norms and customs far behind decades ago. They are beyond political compromise. They are beyond checks and balances, and they have drifted off into the void of a space far beyond the Constitution.

I appreciate what Max Boot (nobody’s notion of a “libtard”) wrote in the Washington Post:

It’s true that, by calling out GOP extremism, Democrats do risk exacerbating the polarization of politics. But they can’t simply ignore this dangerous trend. And it’s not Democrats who are pushing our country to the brink: A New York Times study found that MAGA members of Congress who refused to accept the results of the 2020 election used polarizing language at nearly triple the rate of Democrats[…]So please don’t accept the GOP framing of the assault on Paul Pelosi as evidence of a problem plaguing “both sides of the aisle.” Political violence in America is being driven primarily by the far right, not the far left, and the far right is much closer to the mainstream of the Republican Party than the far left is to the Democratic Party.

But people have been saying this literally for decades. They all were essentially hollering down a well. They did not have large, influential media companies behind them. Their political allies were at best timid and at worst absent.

For example, in 2009, the Department of Homeland Security issued a report detailing a resurgence of radicalization in the American military. The entire commingled Republican political and media, led by then-Speaker John Boehner, a reputed “moderate,” lit themselves on fire. The outcry, stoked (as always) by lies and deliberate misrepresentation, caused DHS to run and hide. It withdrew the report. You will note that I did not use the word “forced.” The DHS was not “forced” to do anything, any more than the Clinton administration was “forced” to abandon Lani Guinier. In 2009, the DHS was going to be in Democrats’ hands for at least three more years. The department could’ve told Boehner to pound sand and stood by the report. In the real world, political outrage is not “force.” It only has the power that tepid resistance gives to it.

Which brings us to this weekend. Paul Pelosi gets attacked with a hammer during a home invasion and as a temporary proxy for his wife, who is the second in line for the presidency. We had Republican influencers babbling about gay trysts gone wrong, and idiot candidates trying to link the attack to their current bogus spin about a national crime wave. And this is the reaction, on national teevee, of the national chairwoman of the Republican Party. From the Washington Post:

Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, said Sunday it was “unfair” for Democrats to link Republicans’ inflammatory rhetoric toward their political opponents to the attack on Paul Pelosi. “I think this is a deranged individual,” McDaniel said on “Fox News Sunday.” “You can’t say people saying, ‘let’s fire Pelosi’ or ‘let’s take back the House’ is saying ‘go do violence.’ It’s just unfair. And I think we all need to recognize violence is up across the board.”

McDaniel cited an attack in July against New York GOP gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin at a campaign event, and falsely claimed that President Biden “didn’t talk about the assassination attempt against” Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, which Biden condemned. “But, of course, we wish Paul Pelosi a recovery,” McDaniel added. “We don’t like this at all across the board. We don’t want to see attacks on any politician from any political background.”

I just can’t anymore. These people are simply lost and mad. Their political party is simply lost and mad. Their political movement is simply lost and mad. Their candidates are simply lost and mad. We are on the very brink of handing the country over to the lost and the mad. The prion disease has jumped from one subject population to the general public, and in too many ways, it is creating its own reality in the national mind. We are all lost and mad.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Sunday, April 3, 2022

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Friday, July 30, 2021

Monday, June 29, 2020

Ukraine Was Small Potatoes

Via the New York Times:

WASHINGTON — United States intelligence officers and Special Operations forces in Afghanistan alerted their superiors as early as January to a suspected Russian plot to pay bounties to the Taliban to kill American troops in Afghanistan, according to officials briefed on the matter. They believed at least one U.S. troop death was the result of the bounties, two of the officials said.

The crucial information that led the spies and commandos to focus on the bounties included the recovery of a large amount of American cash from a raid on a Taliban outpost that prompted suspicions. Interrogations of captured militants and criminals played a central role in making the intelligence community confident in its assessment that the Russians had offered and paid bounties in 2019, another official has said.

Armed with this information, military and intelligence officials have been reviewing American and other coalition combat casualties over the past 18 months to determine whether any were victims of the plot. Four Americans were killed in combat in early 2020, but the Taliban have not attacked American positions since a February agreement to end the long-running war in Afghanistan.

The details added to the picture of the classified intelligence assessment, which The New York Times reported Friday has been under discussion inside the Trump administration since at least March, and emerged as the White House confronted a growing chorus of criticism on Sunday over its apparent failure to authorize a response to Russia.

Mr. Trump defended himself by denying the Times report that he had been briefed on the intelligence, expanding on a similar White House rebuttal a day earlier. But leading congressional Democrats and some Republicans demanded a response to Russia that, according to officials, the administration has yet to authorize.

The president “needs to immediately expose and handle this, and stop Russia’s shadow war,” Representative Adam Kinzinger, Republican of Illinois and a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote on Twitter.

Appearing on the ABC program “This Week,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she had not been briefed on the intelligence assessment and had asked for an immediate report to Congress. She accused Mr. Trump of wanting “to ignore” any charges against Russia.

“Russia has never gotten over the humiliation they suffered in Afghanistan, and now they are taking it out on us, our troops,” she said of the Soviet Union’s bloody war there in the 1980s. “This is totally outrageous. You would think that the minute the president heard of it, he would want to know more instead of denying that he knew anything.”

Spokespeople for the C.I.A., the director of national intelligence and the Pentagon declined to comment on the new findings. A National Security Council spokesman, John L. Ullyot, said in a statement on Sunday night, “The veracity of the underlying allegations continues to be evaluated.”

Mr. Trump said Sunday night on Twitter that “Intel just reported to me that they did not find this info credible, and therefore did not report it to me or @VP.” One senior administration official offered a similar explanation, saying that Mr. Trump was not briefed because the intelligence agencies had come to no consensus on the findings.

But another official said there was broad agreement that the intelligence assessment was accurate, with some complexities because different aspects of the intelligence — including interrogations and surveillance data — resulted in some differences among agencies in how much confidence to put in each type.

Several geological ages ago — last December — Congress impeached Trump over his coercion of Ukraine in order to get dirt on Joe Biden. In the aftermath of the pandemic, the economic collapse, and the racial unrest brought about by criminal activities in several police departments, we should be so lucky as to have the problem of quid pro quo between Ukraine and the United States. But this is the real deal.

Adam L. Silverman in Balloon Juice:

If it was in the Presidential Daily Brief and neither the President, nor the Vice President read it because they can’t be bothered to read them, then they are derelict in their duties and need to be removed from their positions. What we know now is not the end of this story. I expect more information will come out, it will continue to be damning, and the President and his surrogates will try to ignore the underlying reality while lashing out at those who are reporting it. All while we have US and allied coalition forces in contact with the enemy in Afghanistan. An enemy that is being monetarily incentivized to kill them by the GRU/Russian military intelligence. If this failure to do anything to make Russia stop what they’re doing, from the most basic issuance of a démarche telling Putin to stop, let alone anything resembling real pushback, is not a clear example of a high crime and misdemeanor, then nothing is.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Monday, February 10, 2020

Distant Memories

It’s February 10, 2020.  It’s the 117th anniversary of my grandmother’s birth and nine months minus a week until the general election in November.  So, what have the two got to do with each other?  Or “Parasite” and the Detroit Tigers?

As far as the collective memory and speed of the media, the distance between the birth of Lola Ada Dunn in Bloomington, Illinois, in 1903 and the election in 2020 are about the same.  What happens today will be as distant in our immediate past when the polls open, and I’m pretty sure that if you ask the average voter standing in line on November 3, 2020 what film won the Oscar for the Best Picture last night, they’ll draw a blank.  That’s nothing against “Parasite,” but regardless of how important the event is to the average voter, if it didn’t impact them directly, the level of attention to the news of today (“Dems in Disarray!  Buttigieg clashes with Klobuchar!” “Trump Triumphant in Impeachment!”) is about the same as what was handed out in Los Angeles last night, and when it will really matter is far, far away.

What that also means is that paying attention to polls today and seeing them as the true harbinger of what will come to pass is like betting on the Tigers to win the World Series based on their record in April.  It’s fun and may start a long comment thread on Facebook, but it’s not going to really mean anything except provide distraction during a dreary winter.  For instance, a poll came out last week saying Trump’s approval rating had hit 49% and the world freaked out that he might actually break through to 50%, and there were pundits who were actually paid for predicting that with such great numbers, he’d sweep 49 states in the election.  Well, that kind of talk will certainly sell a lot of patent medicine during the commercial breaks on MSNBC, but real pollsters know that one poll doth not make an election and that a true scientific reading would include all polls put together in an aggregate.  To make one poll the harbinger is like saying winning a four-game series against the Yankees means they’ll win it all.

For those of you who really need to know, though, Trump’s aggregate polling has him at 43% approval rating as of last Friday.

Notice that green line, which is his approval rating since his inauguration.  He has been under water since the day he took office, and hasn’t gotten anywhere close to 50% since then.  So that one poll that got all the attention last weekend and caused agita among all the Very Serious People was an outlier: one of those little green dots among the many.  To make that the story of the week is about the same as giving the Cy Young award to a pitcher who closed out with a single win in April.

That doesn’t mean that everybody can breathe easily and start planning for the Democrats to sweep into power.  We know that the GOP will do everything they can, be it legal or not, moral or not, to keep Trump in office and thereby assure their talon-like yet sclerotic grip on power.  Democrats have to work especially hard to fight off the scourge of lies and paranoia within their own ranks and basically save both themselves and the rest of us from complacency and placing too much trust in the common sense of the American voter to reject the manipulations of Trump and his minions.  We tried that before and it didn’t exactly pan out.

I take small comfort in Trump’s low approval rating other than the fact that even if he does have a base of rock-solid support at 43%, it hasn’t moved significantly since January 20, 2017, and even when he’s had “good” weeks, it hasn’t changed.  I’ll wait to see what it’s like in a week or so to see if that clown show at the SOTU has any impact, but if history is any guide, that event has rarely budged a poll for any president, and by November, it will be as distant a memory as 1903.

Oh, and happy birthday, Grammie.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Sunday Reading

Hornet’s Nest — Charles P. Pierce.

I confess that all I know about Soleimani I learned from this long 2013 profile by Dexter Filkins in The New Yorker. As nearly as I can tell from Friday morning’s reactions, that’s the source material for a great deal of them. Soleimani is reckoned to have been a combination of Machiavelli, General Giap, Suleiman the Magnificent, and Lex Luthor. Which raises the question, so far unanswered, as to why a man with so many enemies other than the United States, operating with impunity in a volatile part of the world, survived as long as he did. The only logical answer is that these people carefully took the risk-reward calculations to heart and decided that killing Soleimani wasn’t worth what would ensue in the aftermath. If these calculations were made by the current U.S. administration*, they are not yet obvious.

Instead, the president* tweeted out the image of an American flag. An official Pentagon briefing pointedly said that the action had been taken at the order of the president*. The State Department warned Americans to get the hell out of Iraq, but not to come to the massive American embassy. Americans are urged to leave by airplane if possible but, if necessary, to escape by land, although where the hell they’re supposed to go—Syria?—was left unexplained. But the Americans should get out of Iraq, a place that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CNN on Friday morning is safer now that Soleimani is dead.

(Pompeo also told CNN that the strike was undertaken to preempt an “imminent threat” to U.S. assets, a threat that Pompeo declined to identify, and, yes, we’ve all seen this movie before.)

So no, I have no confidence that anyone there can play this game. The president* is an ignoramus with little or no credibility on any issue, let alone war and peace. His Secretary of State doesn’t seem to have any plan beyond sycophancy. We are hearing the echoes of 2002 and 2003 rising again, except this time on the part of an inferior breed of con artist.

(I suspect that the action taken by the administration* may well finally be the thing that splits the more militaristic of the Never Trumpers from their newfound Democratic allies.)

The stated policy of this administration* is the utter disruption of the Iranian government as a prelude to regime change. We tried this in the 1950s and Iran got 20 years of a police state. Does anyone seriously believe that an Iranian regime that rises from American policy will have the faintest credibility with most Iranians? We tried that in Iraq, which is why Qasem Soleiman found such a target-rich environment there. And any split in the current Iranian regime over the now-abandoned nuclear deal likely has been smoothed over. And god only knows what will happen in Iraq as a result of this. This policy is kick-over-the-hornet’s-nest at its worst. Maybe it’s all just to keep John Bolton from testifying to the Senate. That’s as good an explanation as any.

Hi, Tech! — Lucas Gardner in The New Yorker leaves a note for the person who’s fixing his laptop.

Hello and welcome! Thank you in advance for fixing my computer. I expect that you’re probably going to be tempted to snoop around my laptop to see if I have anything embarrassing on there. I have no way to stop you from doing this, so I’ve decided to get out ahead of it and write you this comprehensive guide.

I keep all my pornography in the folder “C: > Program Files (x86) > Internet Explorer > en-Us > files > real folder”—but I’ve gone ahead and moved it all to the desktop for you, for ease of access. Normally, I don’t really organize it, but I took the liberty of separating it into different folders, labelled by category, for you. I also have some old-fashioned print pornography that I have gone ahead and enclosed in the laptop case.

In my Documents folder, you will find some of my writing. Much of it is bad and sure to give you and the gang over there a good laugh. I would recommend checking out “A Mirthless Summer at the Château Beverly,” an unfinished novel I tried to write about a forbidden romance between a wealthy socialite and—I don’t even remember, a gardener or some shit. I went ahead and bolded all the worst parts, so you can just skim it for the greatest hits. But, if you have time to read the whole thing, it’s all bad.

Other than the writing, you’ll find spreadsheets of my finances and some old tax documents. Nothing interesting there, unless you actually dive in and crunch the numbers, in which case you’ll uncover an absolutely earth-shattering case of unemployment fraud. Please do not tell!!!

I’ll save you some time and let you know that there’s nothing embarrassing in the Pictures folder. No nudes or anything like that. I have some of those on a separate hard drive though, so I’ll swing by and drop that off tomorrow after my doctor’s appointment, which is regarding sex problems.

You’ll find that I cleared my Google search history before bringing the laptop in. Sorry about that, it was an accident. Here are some searches that you would have found:

•“How to make friends as an adult”

•“Pro-bono fraud defense attorney New York”

•“Could Alf really happen”

•“Donnie Darko ending explained”

I’ll let you know if I remember other ones.

I didn’t log out of any of my social-media accounts, so I guess you’re free to dive in. You’ll see that I’ve sent some messages that are pretty humiliating. For the record, I would just like to state that when I wrote them I was a hundred-per-cent, stone-cold sober. Also, don’t forget to check the time stamps, which will show that they were written in broad daylight.

You probably wouldn’t even think to check my calendar for anything shameful. Do not make this mistake! There’s some stuff on there that really sucks for me—I don’t even want to spoil it for you. Feel free to call me afterward and let me know what you think.

Doonesbury — What’s in a name?

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Back Soon

While the laptop is at the doctor getting upgraded, posting here is on hold. Stay tuned, I’ll be back shortly.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Because Klingons Don’t Take Prisoners

I’m sorry Beto O’Rourke lost his bid to unseat Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) last year, but you have to admit that having the guy who thought “Green Eggs and Ham” was a life-lesson about shutting down the government is at least entertaining to have in office.

His latest campaign is to brace us against attacks from “space pirates.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said this week that it was important to fund President Trump‘s proposed “Space Force” in order to prevent possible space pirates.

“Since the ancient Greeks first put to sea, nations have recognized the necessity of naval forces and maintaining a superior capability to protect waterborne travel and commerce from bad actors,” Cruz, the chairman of the subcommittee on aviation and space, said at a hearing Tuesday.

“Pirates threaten the open seas, and the same is possible in space. In this same way, I believe we too must now recognize the necessity of a Space Force to defend the nation and to protect space commerce and civil space exploration,” Cruz said.

The Trump administration’s current plan to create Space Force would cost more than $2 billion to get off the ground, according to a report from the Congressional Budget Office.

The report found that a Space Force military branch would need 5,400 to 7,800 in new personnel for overhead and management, adding more than $1 billion to the Pentagon’s annual costs.

Trump proposed creating Space Force within the Air Force, similar to how the Marine Corps operates with the Navy. The Pentagon, however, has said Space Force should exist as its own branch of the military, arguing its necessity is inevitable as China and Russia sharpen their focus on space.

A defense spending bill would give $15 million to study the implementation of Space Force but would not go towards creating it as a branch of the military.

Only Congress can create a new military branch, but Trump has signed off on the set-up of the U.S. Space Command. Lawmakers have demonstrated skepticism over the administration’s Space Force plans, questioning the specifics of the Trump proposal and the need for a new service at all.

Now I know Sen. Ted is worried about the Chinese or other earthbound rivals coming up with ways to disable our satellites and take out our military surveillance techniques (not to mention steal from Direct TV).  But when he came out railing about “space pirates,” I and a lot of other people were going for arming against the Klingons who once forged an alliance with the Romulans to defeat Starfleet and take over the United Federation of Planets.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Neil Simon – 1927-2018

Some playwrights told the truth through tragedy, some through pathos, some through their family portrayals on the stage. Neil Simon did all of that with the sharpness and wit of comedy that got made it even more everlasting. And while we may remember the quips, the one-liners, and the scalpel-like humor, it was always to show us our humanity and human-ness. It was pure genius, and generations from now, when playwrights who seemed so much more important have faded from memory, Neil Simon will still be the one who made us laugh so we could truly see ourselves. What more could you want?

He was the Inge Festival honoree in 1997.  He came to Independence and acknowledged the small-town Midwestern place with his typical humor: “Where can I get good bagels and lox?”  He had breakfast at one of the little storefront restaurants and quipped about writing a new play. “Apple Tree Suite,” for the motel where he stayed during the festival.  He was gracious, charming, and made us laugh at every turn.  And when I think of writers that had an impact on both my writing and my outlook on life, he’s right up there with Lanford Wilson, Robert Anderson, William Inge, and John Steinbeck.